Fear and mistrust of Muslims and Islam is not only harmful to members of the community, but to the larger society as well, said members of the Muslim Public Affairs Council Tuesday night in the USU’s Grand Salon.
“It’s not hard to understand why there is fear. We have adopted a culture of fear after 9/11,” said Edina Lekovic, communications director for the council.
Explaining Islamophobia, defined as a fear, distrust and prejudice toward Muslims and Islam, Lekovic was part of a discussion led by the council, including Haris Tarin, director of community development for the organization.
The organization, based in Los Angeles and Washington D.C., aims to promote accurate and fair depictions of Muslims in the media. The council works with government on related public policy decisions, and engages members of the Muslim and non-Muslim community in education about Islam. Their visit to CSUN is part of their campaign on college campuses to spread awareness about the issue. The council has previously visited the University of California at Davis, Davidson College in North Carolina, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Texas at Austin.
The discussion, organized by CSUN’s Muslim Student Association in collaboration with MPAC, was part of the Islamic Awareness Week.
The need for the discussion came about after students reported that some CSUN professors made offensive comments about Muslims, said Zabie Mansoory, president of the Muslim Student Association. The organization wants to address these issues and find ways to deal with them, he said. The student group is currently in the process of voicing their concerns with letters to CSUN president Jolene Koester.
“Our hope is to bring awareness and hopefully it doesn’t happen in the community in the future,” Mansoory said.
During the discussion, Tarin and Lekovic noted how Muslims have been portrayed negatively in the media, dominating international news coverage. Lekovic, who has appeared on CNN and MSNBC, said that polls conducted just after 9/11 indicated that about 15 to 20 percent of Americans associated negativity with Islam, adding that in the years to follow, things have not improved.
“Five years out, it’s actually gotten worse,” she said. A recent Washington Post poll, she noted, indicated that about 46 percent of Americans had a negative view of Islam.
The media perpetuates negative stereotypes of Muslims with the images included in the war’s coverage, which fuels mistrust and suspicion, she said. The viewing of the short version of the film “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West” followed. It was shown as an example of the media’s use of visual images to perpetuate stereotypes. The film was broadcast by CNN and Fox News, who claimed that it was original news content, Lekovic said. It includes images of burning U.S. flags, 9/11 destruction, the Madrid and London terrorist attacks, and radical jihad groups calling for “Death to America,” among other violent images.
In analyzing the film, Lekovic said that its fundamental problems were its use of propaganda tools, such as music, powerful images and misleading contextual interpretations. Statistics, reliable reports and government sources are missing, she said.
“What the film does overall is what it does in the scenes. It exploits the viewer,” Lekovic said. People who see the film and do not know any better rely on the images and assume the information is factual and the sources are accurate.
“What this film leads you to believe is there is one Muslim mind,” she said. It ignores the rich traditions among Muslim societies, and instead links them with terrorism and hatred, she added.
Harin agreed, noting that images in the film of men praying, children in school, and women shopping in the community are not directly related to terrorism or violence, but are used to coax the viewer into forming a connection.
“A culture of hatred. That’s the image that they are trying to spread,” he said.
There was a question and answer session following the film, in which Harin asked students what their impressions were about the images that were shown. Most students agreed that the images portrayed Muslims negatively, and that they themselves may be associated with those stereotypes.
Others stressed that the issue of Islamophobia should be exposed.
“It should be spoken about. We should speak and express who we are so that they understand us,” said Ilyas Ustun, a manufacturing engineering major, following the session.
Others said that awareness, discourse and debate are key in combating the issue.
“We’re trying to educate people not just about Islam, but other cultures,” said biology major Taiba Kator Mulk. “The perception has to change.”
Lekovic said that the organization ultimately wants people to act, noting that everyone can do something to change the environment around them.
“The idea behind this entire campaign is to demonstrate to Muslim people that we cannot afford to be victims, and to non-Muslims, that you cannot afford to be bystanders,” she said.